Today I received an email from my dad with the text below. After reading it, I thought it would be nice to share it here on the blog. After a quick search (needless to say, there was no mention of the author’s name in the email), I found out it had been written by Marnie Louise Froberg (she keeps a blog called “Smiling Buddha Cabaret“) as a guest post on this other blog. Marnie has kindly allowed me to republish the post here. Instead of writing my reflections on this text, I leave it to you to post the comments – perhaps there’s a post coming with my own reflections in the future. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
“Some time ago I got into a conversation. It didn’t start out as a conversation. In fact it began as some rather snarky comments and smarty-pants blog posts. Then it turned into a tentative dialogue. And it finally resulted in a meaningful conversation. That’s an unusual accomplishment over the Internet.
There is a lot of talk in contemporary life: talk radio, talk shows, talk therapy, talking points, talking heads, small talk, pillow talk, Google talk, double talk, girl talk, “talk to the hand”, “walk the talk”, “all talk and no action”, straight talk, talk dirty, sweet talk, money talks.
Talk is a rather one-sided affair. Someone says something and perhaps others give it some amount of attention. There may or may not be the opportunity to respond to the talker depending upon the format. Responses are usually limited to points made by the originator of the talk. And then it’s finished.
Talks are different than conversations. Talks are used for the imparting of information or points of view and audiences are expected to absorb the information in a somewhat passive manner. There is an unequal balance between the speaker and the hearer. Conversation is trying to understand and accept the information. Conversations involve two, or sometimes more people each contributing fully to the moment. They may not contribute an equal number of words but they do contribute full attention to other participants. There is much listening, considering and responding.
The talk mode dominates the Internet. Through blogs, comments, YouTube videos, podcasts, streaming media and informational websites there is an assumption of audience. The audience is also assumed to be minimally participant in the production of the talk based element. Sometimes the audience is even overlooked in favor of expression of personal viewpoints. Talk is sometimes reduced to an expulsion of thought and emotion without much regard to effects.
Conversation is about making connections. It goes beyond simply being heard and becomes about being understood and understanding. Conversations can be somewhat daunting experiences. They ask a lot more of the participants. I am reminded of a couple of lines from the Bruce Springsteen song Tunnel of Love:
“Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us
You me and all that stuff we’re so scared of”
Whether we are conversing with someone close to us like a lover or family member or with someone at some emotional distance conversation requires a certain amount of risk. The risk is in allowing vulnerability to emerge and defenses to drop. This is where conversations can go awry and simply become talks.
When conversations get loud and talk-like it usually means one of the parties has stopped listening. Some reasons can include anger or hurt. Other reasons, especially in a group context can be a desire for attention, to be noticed in the crowd.
Real conversation brings resolution. It’s not always pleasant nor does it always end with smiles. Sometimes the conversation first needs to be about being heard. Sometimes the conversation has to be about endings as much as beginnings. Sometimes it has to be about pain rather than pleasure. But it always leads to clarification and furthers understanding.
Behind real conversations, whatever the twists and turns and degrees of discomfort, if participants have emotional intelligence , then valuable meaning will be exchanged. Once we realize that vulnerability is not a weakness to be disguised by aggression, silence, nonchalance or all the other fronts we put up, then meaning can happen.
Conversation is far more intimate than talk. It comes and goes from the heart. It’s not enough to smile, minds must be ready to be engaged, and I think even confront, but able to avoid the potential contagion of anger. Participants need the maturity to understand that they actually are the other, or at least able to put their mind in the place of the other.
When we notice the talk mode coming to dominate our speech there is a chance to temper that and broaden our inclusiveness. The audience can become a participant. We can then notice who is in need of some meaningful conversation. And maybe we can even accept that it is us.”